These Famous People had Truly Bad Sides to their Personalities
These Famous People had Truly Bad Sides to their Personalities

These Famous People had Truly Bad Sides to their Personalities

Khalid Elhassan - September 15, 2021

These Famous People had Truly Bad Sides to their Personalities
Susan B. Anthony, left, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. NJTV

7. The Awful Side of America’s Foremost Women’s Rights Activists

Susan B. Anthony (1820 – 1906) and Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815 – 1902) were great social reformers and equal rights activists who played a key role in the fight to secure the rights of America’s women. Stanton was the main force behind the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention – the first ever called for the sole purpose of discussing women’s rights. Both died before the 19th Amendment guaranteed women the right to vote, but they played key roles in laying the groundwork for its passage.

Unfortunately, as is too often true with all too many who did great good, they had an awful side. To wit, racism that seems jarring coming from such progressive icons. At one time, Stanton and Anthony were part of the American Equal Rights Association (AERA), which they formed with black abolitionist Frederick Douglass and other reformers in 1866. AERA sought to secure voting rights for both women and blacks. Within a few years, however, Stanton and Anthony went from supporters of blacks’ right to vote to opponents, and voiced their opposition in starkly racist terms.

These Famous People had Truly Bad Sides to their Personalities
AERA memorial, 1867. Docs Teach

6. From Racial Progressive to Out and Out Racist

The AERA was surrounded with tensions from early on, that arose from its twin goals of securing the right to vote for both blacks and women. According to its constitution, the AERA’s mission was “to secure Equal Rights to all American citizens, especially the right of suffrage, irrespective of race, color or sex“. In 1867, the organization conducted two major campaigns, one in New York, and the other in Kansas, to improve the political lot of both women and black Americans (and the highly oppressed group black American women).

In New York, which was rewriting its state constitution at the time, the AERA led petition drives to remove property requirements that specifically discriminated against black voters, and in support of women’s suffrage. In Kansas, the association campaigned for referenda to give both women and blacks the right the vote. However, the combination of the two goals created problems, especially from those who thought it frittered away the focus that should be devoted to one issue or the other. It set the stage for bitter feelings, and awful statements and actions by too many otherwise progressive reformers.

These Famous People had Truly Bad Sides to their Personalities
Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Encyclopedia Britannica

5. Elizabeth Cady Stanton Referred to Black Men as “Sambos”

Eventually, the AERA was wrecked because of the question of which of its twin goals, black rights or women’s rights, should be prioritized. Three years after it was founded, the association dissolved amidst bitter arguments about whether or not to support the 15th Amendment, which gave black men and naturalized immigrants the right to vote. Reasonable people could disagree on whether women or black men should be the first to get the vote. Frederick Douglass, an AERA member, wanted to support the 15th Amendment, and simultaneously back the struggle for women’s rights.

Unfortunately, Elizabeth Cady Stanton was not a reasonable person on this issue, and reacted with a Klan-like tirade. Her response to the views of Douglass was a racist speech that mocked the black men and immigrants whom the 15th Amendment would enfranchise. She made no bones about her opposition to giving black men the right to vote. Even as Stanton embraced fairness in the abstract, she publicly voiced awful racist views about black men, whom she referred to as “Sambos” and potential rapists.

These Famous People had Truly Bad Sides to their Personalities
Elizabeth Cady Stanton. History

4. A Pioneering Reformer’s Awful Racism

Elizabeth Cady Stanton left little doubt about her racial views. As she put it in a speech opposed to the 15th Amendment’s enfranchisement of black men and immigrants: “Think of Patrick and Sambo and Hans and Yung Tung, who do not know the difference between a monarchy and a republic, who cannot read the Declaration of Independence or Webster’s spelling book, making laws for… Susan B. Anthony … [The amendment] creates an antagonism everywhere between educated, refined women and the lower orders of men, especially in the South“.

Stanton played up awful anti-black racist themes with regularity, especially in the South. There, she argued to Southerners that female voters would maintain the social order because they would balance out black voters, whom she painted as ignorant, backwards, and eager to assault white women. Not that there was much need to counter the black vote in the South: within a few years of the 15th Amendment’s passage, Southern states had effectively disenfranchised blacks. Voter suppression means ranging from removing blacks from voter rolls, to lynching blacks who dared assert their voting rights, reduced the Southern black vote to insignificance for generations.

These Famous People had Truly Bad Sides to their Personalities
Frederick Douglass, circa 1879. National Archives

3. Despite Being Wounded by these Early Suffragists’ Racist Attacks, Frederick Douglass Continued to Support Women’s Rights

Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton supported equality for women. What they had in mind in practice, however, was not equality for all women, but only for white ones. After the Civil War, while both black and white women sought the right to vote, they had different motives. Stanton and Anthony sought the vote as symbol and substance of parity with their husbands, brothers, and fathers. By contrast, black suffragists sought the vote for both themselves and their menfolk, to empower black communities. Especially in the South, where recently emancipated black citizens were subjected to a violent reign of racist terror to keep them subservient and disempowered.

These Famous People had Truly Bad Sides to their Personalities
Susan B. Anthony. Wikimedia

Stanton’s and Anthony’s awful racist attacks deeply wounded Frederick Douglass, who decried “the employment of certain names such as ‘Sambo’“. However, he declined to stoop to their level and engage in tit-for-tat insults, and instead continued to support women’s rights for the rest of his life. His support was frequently snubbed, with racist insults tossed in to rub salt into the wound. At an 1890s suffrage convention in Atlanta, for example, Susan B. Anthony asked Douglass to not appear on stage with white women. As a black man, she told him, his presence alongside white women would be “inappropriate”.

These Famous People had Truly Bad Sides to their Personalities
Johnny Carson with seven-year-old actress Kaleena Kiff. Los Angeles Times

2. A Beloved Icon’s Awful Side

For three decades, from 1962 to 1992, Johnny Carson, born John William Carson (1925 – 2005), hosted The Tonight Show on NBC. During that time, he set the standard format and template followed by television chat shows ever since, including the guest couch and studio band. He won a Peabody Award, six Emmys, and was inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame. Carson also received a Kennedy Center Honor, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom – America’s highest civilian award.

These Famous People had Truly Bad Sides to their Personalities
Johnny Carson being awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by George H.W. Bush and First Lady Barbara Bush in 1992. George H.W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum

He worked hard to cement his perception as the funny and neighborly Midwesterner, and perfected his friendly on-air persona. In return, Americans welcomed Carson with open arms into their living rooms as the country’s favorite late-night-host. However, when he was not in front of an audience, The King of Late Night Television, as Carson came to be known, was often a horrible human being – a bitter bully, and a mean SOB. Indeed, he was so awful that many famous figures boycotted his show – but quietly, because they feared that he might damage their careers. As seen below, Wayne Newton was an exception.

These Famous People had Truly Bad Sides to their Personalities
Johnny Carson. Biography

1. Johnny Carson Got Slapped Around by One of His Targets for Being a Jerk

While he was on the air, Johnny Carson was sweetness and sunshine, and the epitome of the friendly character we all wish we had as a neighbor. When not in front of the cameras and his adoring audience, however, Carson was an awful jerk who habitually bullied and abused others, and even physically assaulted people in fits of rage. Examples of Carson being a jerk include an attempt to strangle NBC colleague Tom Snyder, his refusal to visit his son who was institutionalized in a mental asylum, and his verbal and physical abuse of his wives.

These Famous People had Truly Bad Sides to their Personalities
Wayne Newton. Associated Press

Celebrities subjected to The King of Late Night TV’s abuse usually stayed quiet to protect their careers from the notoriously vindictive icon. One notable exception was singer and actor Wayne Newton, who did not find it funny when Carson cracked homosexual jokes about him on national TV. Thinking that they were buddies, Newton begged Carson to cut it out, but Carson persisted. So an incensed Newton barged into Carson’s office one day, and slapped him around silly. It was one of the few times that Carson got his comeuppance. The homosexual jokes stopped.


Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading

American Libraries Magazine, June 1st, 2018 – Bringing Harassment Out of the History Books: Addressing the Troubling Aspects of Melvil Dewey’s Legacy

Bushkin, Henry – Johnny Carson (2013)

Cracked – 5 Famous Things That Were Named After Awful People

Encyclopedia Britannica – German-Soviet Nonaggression Pact

Ericson, Edward E. – Feeding the German Eagle: Soviet Economic Aid to Nazi Germany, 1933 – 1941 (1999)

Groves, Leslie R. – Now It Can Be Told: The Story of the Manhattan Project (1983)

History – History Stories: How Early Suffragists Sold Out Black Women

History Collection – Popes Behaving Badly: 8 Dreadful Papal Scandals From the Middle Ages

Independent, The, August 9th, 1995 – City Remembers Day it Escaped the Bomb

Jones, Dan – The Plantagenets: The Warrior Kings and Queens Who Made England (2014)

Las Vegas Sun, January 24th, 2005 – Carson Had Long Vegas History

Montefiore, Simon Sebag – Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar (2003)

Monterey County Historical Society – Land King: The Story of David Jack

National Interest, August 8th, 2018 – Operation Downfall: How America Would Have Invaded Japan

New York Times, July 28th, 2018 – How the Suffrage Movement Betrayed Black Women

Publishers Weekly, June 24th, 2019 – ALA 2019: ALA Votes to Strip Melvil Dewey’s Name From Its Top Honor

Rhodes, Richard – The Making of the Atomic Bomb (1986)

Royal Institute of International Affairs, Vol. 87 No. 3 (May 2011) pp. 709-715 – Review: Russian Historians Defend the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact

Royal Museums, Greenwich – William Bligh

Wiegand, Wayne A. – Irresponsible Reformer: A Biography of Melvil Dewey (1996)

Wikipedia – John, King of England

Wikipedia – Operation Downfall